I’ve now spent three days reading coverage of what my dad is breathlessly referring to as the “apocalyptic” situation on the west coast of Florida, following Hurricane Ian’s landing on Thursday. I live on the east coast of Florida and it might just as well’ve landed here and wrought the same havoc. Worst we would’ve seen since 1992.
I was a year old when Hurricane Andrew hit my childhood home and whipped the windows out by the frame and shat the roof. I have no memory of it but I have a distinct fear of post-apocalyptic movies that I think stems from some residual infant awareness of barren streets and shattered houses. A flat landscape and strangers in wet clothes crunching over ruins. The grownups around me all panicked. Plus I’ve grown up with the story, the home footage, the images: my family huddling in the master bathroom, mom and dad and older brother, plus my grandmother Wala, my great-grandmother Mima.
It’s only as I write this post at 31 that I’m thinking back over the story and focusing primarily on what must’ve been Mima’s experience of the storm. She was born in 1909 (we remembered by noting that the Titanic sank when she was three) and while sitting through that storm, in her early 80s, was waaay beyond her generation’s 53.8-year life expectancy. Here she was in the Land of Opportunity with her family gathered together against all historical odds and meanwhile, outside, the sound of wind outside like a train in the street. Probably she’s thinking this is it. She’s going to die here. That the ceiling will fall in or some projectile pierce the wall. Dreading some violent death at so late an age.
This after living through two revolutions in Cuba. She sat through the first World War and was grateful when it ended and then who knows what she must’ve thought when Germany said, “No wait, again.” Something disbelieving, I’m sure. Probably thought the same thing when it was over. Some 80 million people dead, depending on your source. About 3% of the world’s population.
Not her, though.
And here’s how it ends. Next to a bathtub with a mattress on it. Outside the bathroom door there’s creaking and breaking and alarms in the street and the wet twinkly crunch of windows getting sucked from the wall and thrown to the sky. Thinking maybe she’ll survive but then imagining the wasteland. No medicine. No shelter. Guys rolling by in trucks selling three-quarter jars of Jiffy for $15. Everybody with guns, eyeballing neighbors, worried about looters. Total dark at night and stars above Miami for the first time in years. Flashlights bleating. Every mattress is wet.
When I got out of college I worked for a while at a ghostwriting firm whose founder was recovering from brain surgery. He’d had a tumor removed from his frontal lobe, which governs things like language and critical thinking and temperament. We were on the phone one day as he was coming out of Starbucks and he screamed fuck and goddamn it and banged his steering wheel and chucked something at the dash. He huffed and puffed and a silence endured and he said, “I asked them to put half butter on my bagel, half cream cheese.” His breathing got deep and slow and you could hear the size of his nostrils and he screamed, “They did the whole thing cream cheese!”
Then he caught himself.
“First brain cancer,” he grumbled, “now this.”
Hurricane Andrew might well have been a mustached neighborhood villain a la Don Fanucci, the way everybody muttered the name for the next twenty years and rolled their eyes and sighed to remember the fallout. Hurricane Katrina happened when I was a freshman in high school and we lost power for a long time and every tree in the neighborhood assumed a different position but it wasn’t nearly so bad. After a week without power my family went to a hotel and we watched CNN’s coverage of what Katrina’d gone on to do in New Orleans and I remember the whole adventure being very quiet. I bought two James Patterson novels from a used bookstore and spent those days reading them in the hotel lobby.
Doesn’t have much to do with horror movies or novels but when I think of occasions when I looked at a TV screen and was really frightened I can’t remember a movie that compares.